LaVon Brazill woke up yesterday with a torn meniscus. He hadn't been able to practice since injuring his knee in the Mid-American Conference Championship game against Northern Illinois on December 2nd. The senior out of Latana, Florida, was faced with a tough decision just hours before kickoff at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Sit the game out to prevent any further damage to his knee or take the field in his final collegiate game risking further injury to help his team secure its first bowl win in school history.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich said before the game that Brazill was going to give it a go but that he wasn't sure how effective he was going to be. Understandably, Solich said he would sit Brazill out if necessary depending on how his knee responded to his first game action in over two weeks.
Things didn't start off too well for the Bobcats. Facing off against Utah State, Ohio was able to get a goal-line stand on the first drive of the game, which prevented the Aggies from getting into the endzone but forced Ohio into an unenviable position. By third down the Bobcats were only able to get to their own three and on an attempted pass the ball slipped out of Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton's hand. Tettleton turned his back to the defense when trying to hunt down the ball, leaving him unaware of the situation, and he ended up diving out of the back of the endzone to prevent a defensive touchdown even though he had enough time to turn around and throw the ball.
After a very poor punt following the safety that put the Aggies right at midfield, Utah State would drive right down the field for a touchdown, putting them up 9-0 on the Bobcats. Ohio got into Utah State's territory on their next drive but an offensive pass interference call on quarterback turned wide receiver Phil Bates took Ohio back into their own territory and forced Paul Hershey to punt (Hershey being famous for going on Twitter to voice his disappointment with having to play in Boise in December for Ohio's bowl game). The Bobcats would get on the board late in the second quarter when Tettleton found freshman tight end Derek Roback for a 26-yard touchdown, which was the first of Roback's career.
A 9-7 deficit was not an awful halftime score for Ohio given how many times they made silly mistakes but at least to that point, their offensive playmakers had been silent. Defensive leader and senior linebacker Noah Keller was almost single handedly keeping Ohio in the game by stopping Utah State from establishing the run. At the end of the first half, Brazill had just four catches for 28 yards. For someone that has a career average of 13.4 yards per catch, that's a pretty unfamiliar output.
The second half started just as poorly for Ohio as the first. The Bobcats only returned the opening kickoff to the 17-yardline, putting them insider their own redzone once again. Then, before they could even run a play, they were forced to call a timeout because the offense wasn't ready to take the field. Then their first play of the half from scrimmage was a pitch out of the pistol formation (my least favorite play in college football), which lost seven yards. At this point it looked like Ohio was unprepared for this game, or at least unmotivated to be playing for all the potatoes in Boise (despite fairly nice conditions). They were sloppy, they weren't effective and they were getting outplayed by the Aggies.
Ohio punted just two plays later and Utah State got the ball at their own 28. After a nine-yard run from star junior running back Robert Turbin, the Aggies' back-up running back, senior Michael Smith, ran right by everybody on the Bobcats' defense for a 63-yard touchdown. The Bobcats would follow that with a nice drive from their own 25 all the way to Utah State's 14 but an incomplete pass from Tettleton that was intended for Brazill forced Ohio to settle for a field goal.
With the score now 16-10 in favor of Utah State, the Aggies drove right back down the field and finished their drive off with a touchdown - an 11-yard scamper from Smith, giving him two touchdowns in his final game at Utah State. With 5:51 left in the third quarter, Ohio was now down 23-10 and it seemed like the Aggies' running game was finally getting through Ohio's defense and without a quick score from the Bobcats, Utah State seemed ready to run the ball down their throats to close it out.
But after falling victim to a large comeback from Norther Illinois in the MAC title game that cost them the conference championship, Ohio would turn the tables in this game and put together a comeback of their own. And guess who was at the center of it all?
After moving the ball 20 yards on four plays, Ohio found themselves on Utah State's 44 with a fresh set of downs. Tettleton ran one of my favorite plays out of the pistol formation, the option pass. After rolling to the right for a few seconds Tettleton broke off of his horizontal trot and set his feet to make a deep throw down the field. It was a strike, hitting LaVon Brazill in stride 44-yards down the field for a touchdown. Brazill made a great leaping catch and in that moment it seemed like the momentum was changing a bit. Ohio was finally able to stretch the field with the pass game and Brazill had pulled Ohio within six.
Things would stall after that for both sides, which was a positive for Ohio. Their offense hadn't been explosive all game but on the other side of the field they were preventing Utah State from breaking off too many big runs. With four and a half minutes left in the game, Ohio punted the ball back to Utah State after failing to get anything going for the second straight drive. It was a good punt and the Aggies were stuck at their own seven. Utah State would only gain one yard on three plays but they did eat two minutes of clock in the process. They punted the ball right back to Ohio, who would start the final drive of their season at their own 39.
Right away, Ohio got across midfield with a 19-yard pass play from Tettleton to Riley Dunlop, Ohio's other senior receiver who has been overshadowed by Brazill most of his career but has been just as clutch when the Bobcats have needed a big play. That was followed up by a nine-yard rush from Donte Harden, Ohio's senior running back. Then Tettleton broke to the outside and got 15 yards on a broken play. In just three plays the Bobcats were at the 18 yardline. After an incomplete pass on first down, Tettleton would find Donte Harden for a seven yard completion that could have been good for more had Harden not stepped out of bounds. On third and three, Tettleton was given no open throwing lanes and had to scramble. After trying to make a play, Tettleton had to go out of bounds to stop the clock and he went out three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The Bobcats would call a timeout with 45 seconds to talk things over. On fourth and six, the Bobcats season would come down to this play. If you were Frank Solich or Tyler Tettleton, is there any question who the ball was going to? Brazill hadn't had a catch on fourth down the entire season and his numbers in the fourth quarter were his lowest of any quarter. But that didn't matter. Everybody knew that with the season on the line, the star senior wideout would be the target.
Tettleton took the snap, dropped back and with two defensive linemen closing in, lobbed the ball up over a linebacker's head and right into the arms of LaVon Brazill. Brazill then turned and stretched his arm towards the endzone. When the ball it the ground he lost control of it but was able to recover it in the endzone for what was called a touchdown. It was clear that the play would be reviewed but at first I had thought that Brazill would fall victim to the Calvin Johnson rule. After watching the play in realtime, I wasn't sure if the bobble was made after a "football move" or if he still hadn't completed the catch.
Upon further review, Brazill did make the catch cleanly but was down at six inch line. Ohio's first attempt from the goal-line was a power play with Tettleton taking the snap out of the shotgun and falling forward. He didn't get in and Ohio had to call their final time out. On second and goal, Tettleton faked the power play again, then looked to see if he could pull of a jump pass to his tight end (who was covered), then nearly lost his footing as he went backwards before rolling out to the right. As Tettleton made the turn it looked like a Utah State defensive end may be able to beat him to the corner of the endzone but he slipped and Tettleton made his way to the corner before diving in for the touchdown. Matt Weller's extra point followed and Ohio took a 24-23 lead.
After a pretty wild series of laterals from Utah State on their final play, Bobcats' cornerback Octavius Leftwich fell on the ball, securing Ohio's first bowl win in school history.
LaVon Brazill finished the game with eight grabs for 108 yards and a touchdown. His eight receptions gave him 74 on the season, putting his name next to yet another school record. Just about the only school receiving record Brazill didn't break during his career was receiving touchdowns, which would have been different had he been about a foot taller on that fourth and six conversion. Nonetheless, Brazill was incredible in his final collegiate game. Despite a torn meniscus, Brazill won the offensive MVP award and put together one of his best performances of the season.
As a player at a lesser known program Brazill has to make the most of his opportunities on a national stage. It's no coincidence that in Ohio's three biggest games this season, all on ESPN, Brazill had his best performances. Against Temple in Ohio's first Bobcat Blackout Brazill had seven receptions for 156 yards. Against Northern Illinois in the MAC title game Brazill had eight grabs for 124 yards. And against Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Brazill was a main cog in Ohio's 14-point comeback win, scoring one of their touchdowns on a 44-yard strike and setting up the other by getting the ball inside the one yardline.
LaVon Brazill is one of the best receivers in college football and despite not playing the position until his senior year in high school, he has quickly made the jump from fringe college recruit to legitimate NFL prospect. Brazill did a heck of a job to close out his college career in style with two game-saving catches and it was nice to see him do well in his final game as a Bobcat. But rest assured that won't be the last time you see Brazill on the gridiron, because he'll be playing on Sundays very, very soon.